Tommy A, the Polonius of Medieval Churchmen

Thomas Aquinas, Letter on a Method of Study

Because you have asked me, Ioannes, my dearest companion in Christ, in what manner it is proper for you to study in acquiring a treasury of knowledge, such a plan is handed on from me to you: that you should choose to enter through little streams, and not suddenly into the sea, because it is proper that one come gradually through the easier things to the more difficult ones.

This is, therefore, my advice and your instruction. I order you to be slow in speech and slow in acceding to the mouthpiece. Embrace purity of conscience. Do not allow yourself to be free for speech. You should frequently esteem the wine cellar if you wish to be brought into it. Present yourself as lovable to everyone. Don’t look at all deeply into the deeds of others. Don’t show yourself as very familiar with anyone, because excessive familiarity breeds contempt and offers material for subtraction from study. Don’t in any way get yourself embroiled in secular words or deeds. Don’t forget to follow the footsteps of the holy and the good. Don’t consider from whom you are hearing something, but commend to memory whatever good is spoken.

Make sure that you understand what you read and hear. Make yourself certain about doubtful things. Try to store up whatever you can in the wardrobe of your mind as if you wanted to fill up a jar. Don’t seek things higher than your station. Following these steps, you will profer and lead forth the useful blooms and fruits on the vine of the God of Heavenly Hosts as long as you live. If you will have followed all of this eagerly, you will be able to attain what you affect.


Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium: ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua. Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe; nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum; nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat; de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas; non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda; ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere; altiora te ne quaesieris. Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas

Scholastic Thought to Dull the Mind

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion:

Book I, Chapter I

On the Origin of the Arts

“Of all the things to be sought in this world, the first is wisdom, in which the form of the perfect good consists. Wisdom illuminates a person so that he may know himself, who was similar to others when he did not understand that he was made before others. Indeed, the immortal soul, illumined by wisdom, looks back upon its origin and recognizes how indecent it is, so that it seeks beyond itself for something for which that which it itself is could be enough. It is read on the tripod of Apollo, ‘gnoti sauton,’ that is, know thyself, because unsurprisingly if a person is not unremembering of his own origin, he may recognize everything which is subject to change, though it be nothing.

The approved opinion among philosophers holds that the spirit is composed from all parts of nature. The Timaeus of Plato formed “actuality” out of divided and undivided and mixed substance, and in the same way out of the same and diverse nature, and a mixed nature from both. For it catches both the initial elements and those things which follow the initial elements, because it comprehends the invisible causes of things through its intelligence, and it collects the visible forms of actual things through its sense impressions, and once it has been divided, it collects movement into two spheres, because it either moves out of the senses to sensible things, or it ascends to invisible things through intelligence. Then, pulling the similarities of things to itself it circles back, and this is because the same mind, which can take universal things, is put together from every substance and nature, because it represents the figure of similitude. For, it was the Pythagorean belief that similar things are comprehended by similar things, as clearly the rational soul could in no way comprehend all things unless it were composed of all things. In support of this, someone says

‘We comprehend the earth with our earthly being, the aether with flame, humor with liquid, and the air with our breath.’



De origine artium.

Omnium expetendorum prima est sapientia, in qua perfecti boni forma consistit. sapientia illuminat hominem ut seipsum agnoscat, qui ceteris similis fuit cum se prae ceteris factum esse non intellexit. [741D] immortalis quippe animus sapientia illustratus respicit principium suum et quam sit indecorum agnoscit, ut extra se quidquam quaerat, cui quod ipse est, satis esse poterat. scriptum legitur in tripode Apollinis: gnoti seauton, id est, cognosce te ipsum, quia nimirum homo si non originis suae immemor esset, omne quod mutabilitati obnoxium est, quam sit nihil, agnosceret. probata apud philosophos sententia animam ex cunctis naturae partibus asserit esse compactam. et Timaeus Platonis ex dividua et individua mixtaque substantia, itemque eadem et diversa, et ex utroque commixta natura, quo universitas designatur, entelechiam formavit. [742A] ipsa namque et initia et quae initia consequuntur capit, quia et invisibiles per intelligentiam rerum causas comprehendit, et visibiles actualium formas per sensuum passiones colligit, sectaque in orbes geminos motum glomerat, quia sive per sensus ad sensibilia exeat sive per intelligentiam ad invisibilia ascendat. ad seipsam rerum similitudines trahens regyrat, et hoc est quod eadem mens, quae universorum capax est, ex omni substantia atque natura, quo similitudinis repraesentet figuram, coaptatur. Pythagoricum namque dogma erat similia similibus comprehendi, ut scilicet anima rationalis nisi ex omnibus composita foret, nullatenus omnia comprehendere posset, [742B] secundum quod dicit quidam:

Terram terreno comprehendimus, aethera flammis, Humorem liquido, nostro spirabile flatu.

Read Everything, and Attend Every Lecture!

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion 3.13 (11-12th Century CE)

“There is no one to whom it has been granted to know everything, but at the same time there is no one who has not chanced to receive some special gift from nature. The prudent reader, then, listens to everyone and reads everything, and spurns no writing, no person, no learning. He seeks from all without discrimination what he sees is lacking in himself, and considers not how much he knows, but how much he does not know. Here, they note that saying of Plato, ‘I prefer to learn everything reverently, rather than to insert my own ideas shamelessly.’ For, why do you blush to learn and feel no shame in ignorance? The first is a greater disgrace than the second. Or, why do you make pretensions to the highest claims when you toss about in the dregs? You should consider, instead, what your abilities are able to accomplish. He approaches the problem best who does so in proper order. Many people, in trying to make a leap, simply fall head-first. Therefore, avoid excessive haste. In this way, you will arrive more quickly to wisdom. Learn gladly what you do not know from everyone, because humility can make common to you what nature has made each person’s private property. You will be wiser than all if you wish to learn from everyone; those who receive gifts from everyone become wiser than everyone.

You should therefore hold no knowledge as worthless, because all knowledge is good. If you have the time, you should not refuse to at least give every writing a once-over. If you find no profit in it, you at least do not waste anything, especially since there is in my opinion no writing which does not at least propose something worthy of being sought, if it is read in a proper spot and order. If a piece of writing does not have anything particularly special about it, the diligent examiner of words will latch on to something not found elsewhere – and the more rare it is, the more delight he will feel.”

nemo est cui omnia scire datum sit, neque quisquam rursum cui aliquid speciale a natura accepisse non contigerit. prudens igitur lector omnes libenter audit, omnia legit, non scripturam, non personam, non doctrinam spernit. indifferenter ab omnibus quod sibi deesse videt quaerit, nec quantum sciat, sed quantum ignoret, considerat. hinc illud Platonicum aiunt: Malo aliena verecunde discere, quam mea impudenter ingerere. cur enim discere erubescis, et nescire non verecundaris? pudor iste maior est illo. aut quid summa affectas cum tu iaceas in imo? considera potius quid vires tuae ferre valeant. aptissime incedit, qui incedit ordinate. [774B] quidam dum magnum saltum facere volunt, praecipitium incidunt. noli ergo nimis festinare. hoc modo citius ad sapientiam pertinges. ab omnibus libenter disce quod tu nescis, quia humilitas commune tibi facere potest quod natura cuique proprium fecit. sapientior omnibus eris, si ab omnibus discere volueris. qui ab omnibus accipiunt, omnibus ditiores sunt.

nullam denique scientiam vilem teneas, quia omnis scientia bona est. nullam, si vacat, scripturam vel saltem legere contemnas. si nihil lucraris, nec perdis aliquid, maxime cum nulla scriptura sit, secundum meam aestimationem, quae aliquid expetendum non proponat, si convenienti loco et ordine tractetur; [774C] quae non aliquid etiam speciale habeat, quod diligens verbi scrutator alibi non inventum, quanto rarius, tanto gratius carpat.

Paging Dr. Isidore

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 6.14 (go here for the full text):

Previously, librarii were called bibliopolas, because the Greeks call a book a biblion. The same people are called both librarii and antiquarians, but librarii are those who copy out both old and new things, while antiquarians are those who write out only the old, from which fact they derive their name. The scribe has received this name from writing (scribendo), expressing their duty with the quality of the word.

The scribe’s tools are the reed and the quill, because it is from these tools that words are fashioned on the page. But the reed comes from a plant, while the quill comes from a bird; its tip is divided into two, with its unity preserved throughout its whole form. I think that this is on account of the mystery rite and signifies the Old and New Testaments on its two points, by which the sacramen of the word is expressed as it pours forth from the blood of the Passion.

The reed (calamus) is so called because it lays down its liquid. For this reason, among sailors the word calare means “to set down”. The quill (penna) however, gets its name from hanging (pendendo), that is to say, from flying. It is, as I have said, proper to birds.

The sheets (foliae) of books are so called either from their similarity to the leaves of trees, or because they are made from folles, that is, from the hides which are typically taken from slain animals. The parts of these are called pages (paginae) because they are joined together (compingantur) in turn.

Verses are so called by the common people because the ancients used to write in the same way that they ploughed the land. At first, they drew the stylus from left to right, and then they turned it around on the following line, and then the succeeding line was again written from left to right. Rustic people still call these things verses. A scheda is a page which is still being corrected and not yet put back into the books. This is a Greek word, just like tomus.

Boustrophedon - Wikimedia Commons
An example of the boustrophedon mode of writing which Isidore describes here.

DE LIBRARIIS ET EORVM INSTRVMENTIS. Librarios antea bibliopolas dictos. Librum enim Graeci BIBLON vocant. Librarii autem iidem et antiquarii vocantur: sed librarii sunt qui et nova scribunt et vetera; antiquarii, qui tantummodo vetera, unde et nomen sumpserunt. Ab scribendo autem scriba nomen accepit, officium exprimens vocabuli qualitate. Instrumenta scribae calamus et pinna. Ex his enim verba paginis infiguntur; sed calamus arboris est, pinna avis; cuius acumen in dyade dividitur, in toto corpore unitate servata, credo propter mysterium, ut in duobus apicibus Vetus et Novum Testamentum signaretur, quibus exprimitur verbi sacramentum sanguine Passionis effusum. Dictus autem calamus quod liquorem ponat. Vnde et apud nautas calare ponere dicitur. Pinna autem a pendendo vocata, id est volando. Est enim, ut diximus, avium. Foliae autem librorum appellatae sive ex similitudine foliorum arborum, seu quia ex follibus fiunt, id est ex pellibus, qui de occisis pecudibus detrahi solent; cuius partes paginae dicuntur, eo quod sibi invicem conpingantur. Versus autem vulgo vocati quia sic scribebant antiqui sicut aratur terra. A sinistra enim ad dexteram primum deducebant stilum, deinde convertebantur ab inferiore, et rursus ad dexteram versus; quos et hodieque rustici versus vocant. Scheda est quod adhuc emendatur, et necdum in libris redactum est; et est nomen Graecum, sicut et tomus.

Wax Attack

Isidore, Etymologiae 6.9:

On Wax Tablets:

Wax tablets are the material of literature, the nurses of the young, they themselves

Give intelligence to the youth, and the beginnings of their sense,

the study of which the Greeks are said to be the first to have handed down. For the Greeks and the Etruscans first wrote with iron on wax tablets; later, the Romans ordered that no one should have an iron stylus. On this account, it used to be said among the scribes, ‘Don’t cut into the wax with iron.’ Later, it was established that they write in was with bones, as Atta speaking in the Satire,

Let us turn the plough in the wax and draw the furrough with a point of bone.

What is called graphium in Greek is called scriptorium in Latin; for GRAFE is writing (scriptura).

Ancient Roman Tablets Reveal Voices of the Earliest Londoners ...

DE CERIS. Cerae litterarum materies, parvulorum nutrices, ipsae (Dracont. Satisf. 63):

Dant ingenium pueris, primordia sensus.

Quarum studium primi Graeci tradidisse produntur. Graeci autem et Tusci primum ferro in ceris scripserunt; postea Romani iusserunt ne graphium ferreum quis haberet. [2] Vnde et apud scribas dicebatur: ‘Ceram ferro ne caedito.’ Postea institutum ut cera ossibus scriberent, sicut indicat Atta in Satura dicens (12):

Vertamus vomerem

in cera mucroneque aremus osseo.

Graphium autem Graece, Latine scriptorium dicitur. Nam GRAFE scriptura est.

Half Baconed Arguments

Roger Bacon, Opus Maius 1.1:

There are four exceptionally great obstacles to comprehending the truth, which impede every wise person, and hardly allow anyone to arrive at a true claim to wisdom. These are, to wit, the example of fragile and unworthy authority, the endurance of custom, the perception of the inexperienced mob, and the hiding of one’s own ignorance with a display of apparent wisdom. Every person is involved with these, every station of life is occupied by them. Indeed, anyone you meet in their particular arts of life and study and every kind of business uses the three worst arguments for the same conclusion: ‘this was exemplified by our ancestors,’ ‘this is customary,’ and ‘this has become common, and therefore should be maintained.’

Image result for roger bacon

Quatuor vero sunt maxima comprehendendae veritatis offendicula, quae omnem quemcumque sapientem impediunt, et vix aliquem permittunt ad verum titulum sapientiae pervenire: videlicet fragilis et indignae auctoritatis exemplum, consuetudinis diuturnitas, vulgi sensus imperiti, et propriae ignorantiae occultatio cum ostentatione sapientiae apparentis. His omnis homo involvitur, omnis status occupatur. Nam quilibet in singulis artibus vitae et studii et omnis negotii tribus pessimis ad eandem conclusionem utitur argumentis, scilicet, hoc exemplificatum est per maiores, hoc consuetum est, hoc vulgatum est; ergo tenendum. Sed oppositum conclusionis longe melius sequitur ex praemissis, sicut per auctoritatem et experientiam et rationem multipliciter probabo.

Instruction vs. Art

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 1.1:

Instruction (disciplina) received its name from learning (discendo): for this reason, it can also be called knowledge (scientia), because to know (scire) is derived from to learn (discere), because no one knows something if they have not learned it. Alternatively, it is called disciplina because it is learned in its fullness (discitur plena). Art however is so called because it consists of strict (artis) precepts and rules. Others say that this word is derived from the Greeks, from arete, that is, from virtue, which they called knowledge.

Plato and Aristotle wanted to establish this difference between art and instruction, saying that art (ars) consists of those things which can come about in an alternative way; but instruction (disciplina) deals with those things which cannot be otherwise than they are. For when something is discussed in true disputations, it is instruction; but when something similar to the truth and depending on conjecture is under discussion, it has the name of art.

Isidor von Sevilla.jpeg

DE DISCIPLINA ET ARTE. [1] De disciplina et arte. Disciplina a discendo nomen accepit: unde et scientia dici potest. Nam scire dictum a discere, quia nemo nostrum scit, nisi qui discit. Aliter dicta disciplina, quia discitur plena. [2] Ars vero dicta est, quod artis praeceptis regulisque consistat. Alii dicunt a Graecis hoc tractum esse vocabulum ἀπὸ τῆς ἀρετῆς, id est a virtute, quam scientiam vocaverunt. [3] Inter artem et disciplinam Plato et Aristoteles hanc differentiam esse voluerunt, dicentes artem esse in his quae se et aliter habere possunt; disciplina vero est, quae de his agit quae aliter evenire non possunt. Nam quando veris disputationibus aliquid disseritur, disciplina erit: quando aliquid verisimile atque opinabile tractatur, nomen artis habebit.

“Don’t Know Grammar, Don’t Give a F**k”

Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks (Preface):

On the verge of writing the wars of kings with enemy nations, of martyrs with pagans, of the churches with heretics, I would first like to bring forth a display of my faith, so that one who reads me will not doubt that I am a Catholic. That plan has pleased me because of those, who despair of the approaching end of the world, so that the chief points of preceding times collected through chronicles and histories, and how many years there have been since the beginning of the world, may be clearly explained. But first I entreat the pardon of my readers, if I have run off the rails of grammatical art in my letters or my syllables, because I was not really educated with that skill, instead pursuing only that I may retain what is preached in the church without any recoiling or hesitation of my heart, because I know that one who is corrupted by sings is nevertheless able to obtain God’s pardon through a pure credulity.

Scribturus bella regum cum gentibus adversis, martyrum cum paganis, eclesiarum cum hereticis, prius fidem meam proferre cupio, ut qui legerit me non dubitet esse catholicum. Illud etiam placuit propter eos, qui adpropinquantem finem mundi disperant, ut, collectam per chronicas vel historias anteriorum summa, explanetur aperte, quanti ab exordio mundi sint anni. Sed prius veniam legentibus praecor, si aut in litteris aut in syllabis grammaticam artem excessero, de qua adpaene non sum inbutus; illud tantum studens, ut quod in eclesia credi praedicatur sine aliquo fugo aut cordis haesitatione reteneam, quia scio peccatis obnoxium per credulitatem puram obtinere posse veniam apud Deum.

Weather and Nation Building

Paulus Diaconus, Historia Langobardorum 1.1:

“The Northern region, the farther removed it is from the heat of the sun, and the more frigid it is with a snowy chill, so much the more salutary it is for the bodies of humans, and so much more fit for begetting children. In just the opposite way, every southern region abounds more with disease and is less suited to supporting human life the closer it is to the heat of the sun. And so it happens that such great masses of people are born under the northern pole as far east as the Tanais all the way to the west, and though each of those places may be called by their own particular local names, the whole may be called in one general word Germany, although the Romans, when they occupied the two provinces beyond the Rhine, referred to an upper and a lower Germany.

From this well-peopled Germany, therefore, innumerable bands of captives were abducted by the southern peoples and sold. Further, because that region gives birth to more people than it is able to feed, many tribes set out from their homes and afflicted indeed the countries of Asia, but chiefly Europe, which shared a border with them. All of the uprooted cities throughout all of Illyricum and Gaul are witnesses to this, but the greatest testament are the wretched cities of Italy, which experienced the savagery of nearly all of those tribes. The Goths, the Vandals, the Rugi, the Heruli and the Turcilingi, and various other fierce and barbaric nations sprang forth from Europe. In the same way, the tribe of the Winili – that is, the Lombards – which afterward ruled happily in Italy, drew its origin from the peoples of Germany, and although other causes are assigned for their migration, they arrived from the island which is called Scandinavia.”

Septemtrionalis plaga quanto magis ab aestu solis remota est et nivali frigore gelida, tanto salubrior corporibus hominum et propagandis est gentibus coaptata; sicut econtra omnis meridiana regio, quo solis est fervori vicinior, eo semper morbis habundat et educandis minus est apta mortalibus. Unde fit, ut tantae populorum multitudines arctoo sub axe oriantur, ut non inmerito universa illa regio Tanai tenus usque ad occiduum, licet et propriis loca in ea singula nuncupentur nominibus, generali tamen vocabulo Germania vocitetur; quamvis et duas ultra Rhenum provincias Romani, cum ea loca occupassent, superiorem inferioremque Germaniam dixerint.

Ab hac ergo populosa Germania saepe innumerabiles captivorum turmae abductae meridianis populis pretio distrahuntur. Multae quoque ex ea, pro eo quod tantos mortalium germinat, quantos alere vix sufficit, saepe gentes egressae sunt, quae nihilominus et partes Asiae, sed maxime sibi contiguam Europam afflixerunt. Testantur hoc ubique urbes erutae per totam Illyricum Galliamque, sed maxime miserae Italiae, quae paene omnium illarum est gentium experta saevitiam. Gothi siquidem Wandalique, Rugi, Heruli atque Turcilingi, necnon etiam et aliae feroces et barbarae nationes e Germania prodierunt. Pari etiam modo et Winilorum, hoc est Langobardorum, gens, quae postea in Italia feliciter regnavit, a Germanorum populis originem ducens, licet et aliae causae egressionis eorum asseverentur, ab insula quae Scadinavia dicitur adventavit.

Aeriportus Virumque Cano: Trump’s Revolutionary War Airports

An ancient Roman fragment about Revolutionary War airports was discovered buried under a liquefied bag of parsley and several desiccated carrots in a vegetable drawer. Here is the Latin text that Trump translated and quoted in his Fourth of July speech. Latin transcribed by Dani Bostick. Translation by Donald Trump.

Nostri milites caelum complent. Partes arietis arietant.  Aeriportus occupant. Peragenda peragunt. Et in monte Capitrolino, per falaricarum cruentam lucem, nihil nisi victoriam habent. Et cum Aurora venit,  Signum Sideribus Splendens ferociter fluitat.

Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ram parts. It took over the airports. It did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHendry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their Star Spangled Banner waved defiant.